One commenter questioned which was the chicken and which the egg, a legitimate query. But notice that the young people were followed over a period of years and efforts were made to isolate music as a factor.
Another suggested that the study reflected a conservative bias that caused the researchers to simply find what they were looking for. But what initially interested me about the study was the fact that it was conducted by the RAND Corporation, routinely written off by conservatives as having a more liberal bias.
Another commenter sensibly said that the real problem is dysfunctionality in families, not the music. I absolutely agree. Dysfunctional families create psychological and spiritual vacuums in young people. Those vacuums will get filled in one way or another. The worse the family situation, the fewer positive supports children have, the more likely they will be to fill those holes in their souls with expressions that will build up their self-esteem and sense of connectedness with people. Alcohol and drug abuse, anorexia and bulimia, and uncommitted sex are all among the religions young people will adopt when they're living in dysfunctional environments. If a kid lives in a functional family, even a steady diet of misogynist music is unlikely to cause her or him to adopt promiscuity as a life style.
I didn't mean my original piece to be a rant against popular culture or "demon music." Asking music producers and distributors to exercise greater introspection when it comes to sexually explicit material is no substitute for the more basic things that need to happen to bring an end to sexual profligacy among teens.
I still feel that it's important for us, on behalf of kids who live in dysfunctional families in which no adult figure truly cares, to speak to the music producers and distributors about being more responsible. But here are some of the more basic things we need to do:
- We need to pray for the young people of our country.
We need to ask God to open their hearts and wills to the message that they're not worthless garbage or mere physiological flotsam. The message of a lot of the sexually explicit music is that they're nobodies who only become somebodies by subordinating themselves to fleeting sexual thrills. Young people need to know that they have intrisic worth and value. The Bible says that they were created in the image of God and they are part of the world for whom God Himself died and rose.
- Related to this, the Church needs to give higher priority to ministry among young people.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is for teenagers, too. Jesus' promise to never leave them or forsake them can energize and inspire them, empowering them to live this life in healthy fullness.
Nothing we do will more certainly have a positive impact on young people and give them the psychological and spiritual capacity for making good choices with their bodies and sexuality than a relationship with the God we meet in Jesus Christ. As Gerald Mann puts it, in Christ, we know that we have God's "cosmic okie dokie," the love and approval of our Maker. The influence of peer groups dissipates when our primary peer group is composed of Christ and the Church.
- We need to give support to agencies and organizations that help young people see the values and rewards of responsible living and that give them the support and encouragement of healthy, wholesome adults.
This is why I'm so sold on the work of the Boys and Girls Clubs. I must tell my Christian friends that B&G is an independent, non-affliated group. They have no religious agenda. That doesn't make it unworthy of your support, though. As a member of the board for our local Boys and Girls Club, I have seen how it changes young people's lives for the better. (See here.)
- Whether you're a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or some other adult in a young person's life, LISTEN.
I've often recounted the true story of a little boy and his mother told by Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The mother sat with her son as he chattered away and he suddenly stopped. He looked and her and said, "I know you love me very much." "Of course I do," she said. But, what, she wondered, made him say that then. "Because you listen to me."
Throughout my children's growing-up years, my office was in my home and most days I was able to be here when they arrived from school. "How was your day?" I would ask. By the time they hit their middle school years, the immediate answers were usually rendered in monosyllabic grunts.
But later in the evenings, often in their rooms, before or after our nightly prayers together, they would answer my question. No doubt some of this late-night reporting on their days was a ruse to avoid going to sleep. But not all of it. They were answering my sincere queries about their lives when they were ready to do so.
It was, I'm sure, therapeutic for them. But what if my wife and I had never asked how they were doing? There are literally millions of kids in this country who are never asked how their days or their lives are going. One question, one listening ear, can make a huge difference in a young person's life. You don't need to be an expert on youth culture, or know how to use "hip talk." You simply need to listen compassionately.
- Christians: Strive to live authentically for Christ.
This doesn't mean that you have to be perfect. Jesus Christ is the only perfect One to walk this planet since Adam and Eve fell into sin. But live in daily repentance and daily dependence on Christ. When you do, others will notice and want the same power and peace in their lives that you have.Write the record company execs to register concern about the impact of sexually explicit music on kids riven with spiritual vacuums? Absolutely. But the steps mentioned above are even more important than that.
Last night after a Church Council meeting, one man told me about receiving a note from an old high school friend with whom he had gotten reacquainted a few years ago. He'd brought this friend to a New Year's worship at our congregation when this old buddy visited recently, but they hadn't really discussed faith issues. In his recent note, the old friend wrote to our church member, "Thanks for your example of faith. I've joined a church and I'm trying to follow Christ."
If role models can have such an impact on adults, imagine the effects of an imperfect person striving to follow Christ on the children who observe them.
Who we are often speaks so loudly that people couldn't heart our words even if they wanted to. Take it from someone guilty of more than my fair share of hypocrisy and un-Christian behavior: The best moments in my life have come when someone--whether an adult or young person--has told me, "The way I see you trying to follow Christ and the difference he makes in your life has made me want to have Christ in my life, too."
When people have Jesus Christ as their Lord, God, King, and Savior, He begins to fill the low spots in their lives (He also brings down the lofty, selfish ones) and they begin to see themselves as they are: Children of God who don't need to cave in to a "prove yourself" culture and can instead enjoy the kinds of wholesome lives and relationships we all really want.